The following is our transcription of testimony made this morning, November 19 2009, by Dr. Jeffrey Short of Oceana to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The topic: the environmental impact of offshore oil drilling on marine ecosystems and policy protections that should be implemented.
Good morning. I am the Pacific Science Director for Oceana, an international marine conservation organization dedicated to using science, law and policy to protect the world’s oceans.
While I understand we’re here today to talk about environmental stewardship as it relates to offshore oil and gas production, I must state for the record that Oceana opposes expanded oil development in the OCS, because we and many other conservation organizations believe the environmental risks are poorly understood and are not justified by the economic benefits. Simply put, the current state of the science is just not capable of identifying all of the risks involved, let alone assess them with much confidence. We typically approach these projects by assuming we know all we need to know about how exploration and production affect the environment, which we use to justify doing an inadequate job of characterizing the environment before development starts, and then when impacts occur find we can’t really tell what caused them because we didn’t document what was there to begin with carefully enough.
Environmental scientists have made stunning discoveries on how oil affects marine life over the last 20 years, making it clear that there is a lot more that we need to know. The prudent management response is not to pretend that these impact do not exist, but to set the stage for their discovery and to embrace truly precautionary, science-based regulation of development. Along these lines I commend to you the following principles.
First, decisions about development should be guided by a plan that prioritizes marine ecosystems and the services they provide, and to ensure the integrity of the most important ecological areas is adequately protected.
Second, we need to know what is in the ocean and how a marine ecosystem functions to have a reasonable chance of detecting impacts that really did occur. For example, claims that oil and gas development have had little impact on marine life have ringed rather hollow, because although we know these ecosystems have changed rather considerably, we do not know how because we did not establish what was there beforehand.
Third, the status of key ecosystem components should be monitored over the course of development and production so that natural trends and variability can be accounted for when assessing impacts.
Fourth, the best available technology should be used and proposed incident response and recovery methods should be fully developed, proven effective and readily available.
Fifth, we should insist on adequate pre-developed social and economic research to evaluate subsistence and local use of the local ocean in respective ecosystems.
Sixth, we recommend increased dedicated funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide them with expanded agency capacity to evaluate the effects and impacts of oil on marine ecosystems.
This needn’t be prohibitively expensive. Per barrel produced, Norway currently spends over three times as much just on response and mitigation technologies as we do on our entire oil research program. And just 1% of the value of crude oil produced would represent a tremendous expansion.
Finally, we believe that oil and gas development should only occur as part of a plan to move toward alternative renewable energy. In closing, I cannot overemphasize the fact that marine ecology is still a developing science and that the science of oil pollution effects in particular is still in its infancy. The record of new toxicity mechanisms that continue to be discovered virtually guarantees that impacts occur in the environment that we still don’t know how to detect. Responsible stewardship therefore compels us to embrace a much higher standard of precaution as we consider the risks associated with oil and gas development.